I-Team

Residents fight to get 'goat ghetto' out of neighborhood

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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In Sonoma County Wednesday, a couple went to court, fighting to keep their herd of goats. For years, the animals have been a nuisance in an exclusive neighborhood and nothing's been done about it.

People living in an upscale section of Penngrove in Sonoma County have complained for years about what they call the "goat ghetto," but several agencies have been unable or unwilling to help.

When Ken Zamvil and Nancy Brotman bought their three bedroom, five bath, 3,700 square foot house in 2005 for $1,360,000 it was in great shape, just a few years old. But now, they admit it's a mess. Their neighbors believe they are hoarders.

Ken Zamvil: "I wouldn't call it a hoarder, but yeah, I'm a collector of junk."
Nancy Brotman: "He has a lot of stuff."
Ken Zamvil: "I have to admit that, I do."

Upon a visit to the property, the I-Team counted 10 cars that have not moved in years. Bicycles, machinery and indistinguishable junk litter the yard and block the driveway. The retired high school science teacher and his wife, a former real estate investor, gave the I-Team a tour, but only to a point.

Dan Noyes: "The big question, can I see inside?"
Ken Zamvil: "The house? Nah, nobody's allowed in the house."

But, the biggest complaint the neighbors have is the goats. They are everywhere -- inside the junk, climbing on top of it, lounging in the shade of the home's four acres.

Zamvil and Brotman admit to having more than 100 goats earlier this year -- they're down to about 85 now.

Brotman says it all began when she bought just one goat to help control the weeds.

"Goats are like Lays potato chips, you can't have just one," she said.

She bought more and word spread that the couple would accept any and all unwanted goats.

Dan Noyes: "Did you ever say no to anyone?"
Ken Zamvil: "No, we don't."
Nancy Brotman: "If a goat needed us, we did."
Ken Zamvil: "Even though Animal Control has asked us not to accept any goats, we can't do that."
Dan Noyes: "Why?"
Ken Zamvil: "We can't say no."
Dan: "Why?"
Ken Zamvil: "Because the animal will get eaten if it's a giveaway goat on the market."

Zamvil and Brotman have set up a goat rescue on the property, even though zoning laws limit them to 45 animals.

Neighbors say the goats are causing serious problems for neighbors in the Private Estates section of Penngrove, full of large homes on manicured lawns.

First of all, they are escape artists.

"...I had over 22 goats in my yard and there's a hole in my fence, so my neighbor's goats were visiting," Penngrove resident Catherine Hotz said.

"We have a pool and there's a cover and they can fall in that and they were getting caught in between the pool cover; they basically came up and ate all our vegetation, all the good stuff," Penngrove resident Troy Luchessi said.

The goats have eaten the bark off the trees on Zamvil and Brotman's property, killing them and giving neighbors a clear view of the mess. And when it rains, all their manure washes down the creek into neighbors' yards. A local pond has tested very high for E. coli.

"It's smelly, there's more flies, besides an eyesore, it's a health hazard," Hotz said.

"We all abide by the laws; we just expect the laws to be equally enforced among everybody," Penngrove resident Frank Biava said.

The neighbors have been complaining for years to any public official who would listen -- the sheriff's department, animal control, mosquito abatement, the fire department, the health department. They've come out to the property repeatedly, yet the goats remain.

"Nobody has control in this situation, the government doesn't have control, the community doesn't have control, nothing gets resolved," Penngrove resident Charles Curry said.

"When you really want to get your neighbors goat, you start raising goats," Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management spokesperson Ben Neuman said.

Neuman has been overseeing the case. He issued the couple a violation for too many animals and gave them 30 days to fix it -- that was a year and a half ago.

"We are based on a priority basis and we deal with a multitude of issues, anywhere from the life safety issues down to the neighborhood nuisance issues and this is not a highest priority issue, unfortunately," Neuman said.

It was animal care and control that finally got Zamvil and Brotman to court on misdemeanor charges for "failure to properly fence in livestock" Aand "allowing their dog to enter the property of another where livestock is kept". In a plea agreement, they agreed to remove the goats. They also told the court they have to move out because the home is being foreclosed. The county is scheduled to show up with trailers August 1 to take away all the goats.

"It's garbage and I'm not afraid to say that and I would say the same thing in court," Zamvil said. "It's a travesty. This is not equitable and this is not justice."

The neighbors say the county is finally taking this action because the I-Team has been investigating. It's going to be a huge job to remove so many goats; Zamvil and Brotman have failed to neuter the animals or keep the genders apart so they have been reproducing freely, adding to the problem.

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animal, sonoma county, i-team, dan noyes
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